Heritage Crimewave Spreads Across Rural Districts

Thieves are targeting churches due to the lead content of their roofs. What can be done?

Metal theft has increased by 25% in the past year, with churches as the latest target of choice by criminals. Churches have long attracted anti-social behaviour resulting in approximately 75,000 offences being recorded each year, or equal to 200 criminal activities reported every day. But most recently it is the lead in church roofs that is seen as the biggest prize for criminals to acquire, and they’re going to considerable lengths to get at it. By using Google Satellite and drones, thieves are able to scour the country looking for the church roofs that would carry the most value for them, and often they’re located in rural districts where police and security resources are lacking!

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Currently, a third of UK churches have been attacked. Reverend David Ford, Team Rector of the Bromsgrove Team Ministry in Worcester has experienced church roof theft at three separate posts in the past decade. He explains “To have lead stolen from the roof is like having your home violated by a burglar,” he said. “Sometimes churches have to be closed.”

At All Saints Church in Hartest, Suffolk, they tried to prevent thieves from targeting the building by digging a pole into the ground to stop vehicles from getting close. But the determined criminals simply found a route via a neighbours’ driveway, where they were able to cut a hole through the fencing before removing the lead and making a hasty exit. The sad truth is that this type of attack only takes a short amount of time to execute, often in the dead of night, but parishioners can be left with the consequences for years. In the case of the Hartest community, they are now worshipping under tarpaulin which is unlikely to provide adequate cover as the weather gets worse.

What Can Be Done?

Churches don’t have to lay vulnerable waiting for the next attack. There are strategies that can be taken to reinforce security and deter thieves. Similar to the approach that construction sites take, churches can opt to install CCTV which is significantly offputting to criminals who don’t want their actions to be caught on camera. Modern CCTV cameras live feed from your church and the surrounding site to a secure, remote monitoring location where footage can be analysed in real time. Responders can be sent out when a genuine security event occurs, taking pressure off local resources and parishioners.

Another option is to install scaffold alarms which is an important measure to take when a church roof becomes vulnerable during times of repair. In one case, thieves returned to the church a second time to use the erected scaffolding as a means to gain more lead from the roof. The presence of scaffold alarms would likely have persuaded them against this attack!

The government is now under pressure to address this crimewave and tighten up the law along with providing increased police resources to tackle and track down the perpetrators of this terrible crime. It’s a sad fact that the average haul of lead from a church would provide a value of £2,000 once melted down, yet the church itself would face a bill of around £20,000 in repairs and materials – funds which many churches simply don’t have access to!